STAFF REVIEW of Hellpoint (Xbox One)

Tuesday, September 15, 2020.
by Adam Dileva

Hellpoint Box art I’ll admit, I wasn’t keen taking Hellpoint on before I started playing. For starters, I’m absolutely terrible at Souls-like games. I like them, but I eventually become so frustrated I give up after a while. Also, I incorrectly assumed this was going to simply be another knockoff Souls-like, as there has been many since Dark Souls defined the brutally difficult genre. Surprisingly, developers Cradle Games has crafted a fresh take on the genre, and while some may simply write it off as a sci-fi Dark Souls set in a derelict space station, there’s quite a few mechanics that they’ve changed and has more focused on exploration and secrets, arguably for the better and a smoother overall experience.

You are simply a vessel named Spawn, created by The Author who wants you to save the space station you are now on, Irid Novo. There’s been a catastrophic event labelled as The Merge, and now Irid Novo is orbiting around a massive Black Hole. Something happened to the ships inhabitants, as they’ve all been turned into monsters, so it’s up to you to explore and find as much data as you can to solve what went wrong and how to stop it.

The backdrop of Irid Novo is quite stunning once you’ve put in the hours and fully realize just how big this derelict space station actually is. With a dark sci-fi setting, Hellpoint is very atmospheric in its level design, though good luck following along with the main narrative, as there’s not really any traditional cutscenes to piece it all together, instead leaving it to you to find tidbits of information of its lore left behind from talking to NPC’s and computer logs, of which you may not come across in your journey. While I enjoyed the premise and backdrop of Hellpoint, you’ll be much more focused on exploration and its combat while the narrative takes a backseat of importance.

I can’t state enough how impressive the level design is in many ways. The Irid Novo space station is absolutely massive, broken into a handful of different districts, most of which are interconnected in different and secret ways. With a heavy emphasis on exploration, you’ll be spending hours wandering around since you’re never given a map, and will simply need to remember how it all connects. Yes, this becomes frustrating later on when you are looking for somewhere specific you’ve passed before, but any Souls fan should be accustomed to this by now.

The level design is also not linear at all. You’re free to go almost anywhere you want from the beginning, and at times you’re sometimes given a path choice. Eventually you’ll need to explore it all anyways, but a friend and I chose different paths, leading to very different areas, but eventually you’ll loop around and explore each district regardless of your earlier choices. For example, you might defeat a massive boss for it to be hiding a special access keycard that’s used in a different district, or maybe the elevator behind it is how you can now quickly travel from the Observatory hub to other places. The interconnectedness is quite impressive even if it’s maddening and confusing most of the time. There’s also a vast sense of verticality when it comes to the districts as well, full of tons of secrets for you to find. You’ll also find green and yellow handprints along walls and surfaces along your journey. Green are developer made hints or clues whereas yellow are player made messages, usually pointing out secret areas nearby.

Like Dark Souls, you start out as a basic character, and as you level up and collect experience (Axiom, the equivalent to souls), you can improve whatever stats you wish, based on how you want to play. I’m terrible at these games, so I opted to bump up my health and stamina so I could take more hits and dodge/attack more often. You’ll also have to think of what weapons and armor you want to use, as they have specific requirements as well. As I dumped a ton of points into health, I eventually found a massive shield I got from a boss, only to find out I needed to put 18 points into strength to use it, and from what I able to see, there’s no way to respec your characters, so I had to grind for a few hours to eventually spend those points to wield it.

Just below your health, energy and stamina meters in the top left of the screen, you’ll see an odd clock-like icon. This is the Black Hole Clock. Remember that Black Hole I mentioned above that the space station is orbiting around? At certain times of the ‘day’, this clock will start to glow red, which I call the Black Hole Hour. During this short period of time, different dynamic events can occur. Enemies may become harder, maybe a mini-boss will patrol an area or secret doors are suddenly usable. Some areas will also have a red-like haze blocking them, much like the fog walls for Dark Souls’ boss fights, letting you attempt certain bosses or even really challenging horde-like events that can earn you special items. It’s a really interesting mechanic but is not explained anywhere, as I had to do some research online for myself to try and make sense of it all.

As Hellpoint is more exploration based, there’s going to be many times you’ll need to put your platforming skills to the test. I’ll warn you now, the platforming is by far the absolute worst and more infuriating aspect of Hellpoint without a doubt. You can run and jump, but the controls simply aren’t precise, so you’re going to fall into many pits, losing your saved up Axiom unless you’re able to retrieve them where you last died without dying again before doing so. There’s a massive amount of secrets and items hidden on places you can only reach by jumping over pits and dangerous areas, so just prepare yourself for some abysmal platforming that made me want to quit more than once.

Just like Dark Souls’ bonfires, Hellpoint uses Breaches. These tears in space and time are where you rest up and spend your hard earned Axiom to level up. There are a few differences though with the Breaches in Hellpoint. For starters, while they will refill your health, using a breach does not refill your health pots and consumables. Also, it doesn’t reset the enemies, so freely use them as you find them. If you scavenge for secrets along your journey you might even find special items that allow you to raise or lower the difficulty, though be warned, if you bump up the difficulty early on, you’ll easily get one-shot by nearly everything you come across. There are even rare items that can make any breach a teleportation spot/hub for you to fast travel to, so it’s a good idea to use these items wisely once you know the areas and layout a bit more with experience.

There’s a slew of weapons and armor for you to choose from, each with their own strengths, weaknesses and styles of gameplay. Do you choose a very quick but weak dagger like myself with a shield and heavy armor, or instead opt for a ranged weapon and a heavy massive club? They all have their own stat requirements to use and can be upgraded in a unique way.

The more you use a weapon the more proficient with it you become, allowing you to unlock special abilities like weapon throwing, backstabbing and other unique traits. This encourages you to find a weapon you like and stick with it for the long haul. What makes the upgrading of weapons unique is that you don’t actually upgrade the weapon itself, but instead a conductor chip. Even better, these chips can be freely moved from weapon to weapon if you decide to change what you’re currently using. These chips are hard to come by and cost your Axiom to use, but not being afraid to committing to a specific weapon because of these upgrades was probably one of my favorite aspects of Hellpoint.

You also get an Omnicube, a little floating box that follow you and can be outfitted with different gadgets like a flashlight, heat warmer, breadcrumb trail or other uses. Using this drains your energy though, as does using projectile weapons. Thankfully, landing melee hits refills not only your energy, but also your heal ‘pots’ with enough hits. This encourages you to actually fight enemies along the way and not simply bypass and run away from everything.

Bosses are usually quite large and intimidating. They are obviously the more unique fights, though they can be infuriating and near impossible solo, most of which I probably wouldn’t have been able to do easily without the help of a co-op friend.

That’s right, Hellpoint allows for co-op, local splitsreen or online co-op. This reason alone is actually why I started to really enjoy my time with Hellpoint, as I was really struggling solo, but co-op made it a much more manageable experience overall. There are some quirks and caveats to this online experience though. Firstly, you can’t simply invite a friend through the normal Xbox menu and means. Instead, you need to communicate to them your unique online code, they punch it in and will eventually merge into your world. It’s an odd step that I don’t understand, but this also means no joining random people either, as you need a specific eight digit room code to join, much like a friend code.

Co-op also essentially breaks the game difficulty in many ways. It doesn’t seem like the game scales to co-op, and the AI doesn’t know how to handle two players. Essentially you’ll have one person pull an enemy, they’ll continually chase them, and the friend can simply follow and slash away until it’s dead. Yes, even for bosses. Another oddity is that only the host can interact with the main doors and elevators, and if they change districts, you’re swept away with them as well. There's also no indicator to show where your co-op friend currently is in the district, so if you separate, you'll have to communicate to find one another again.

If the co-op friend dies, the host can get to their death spot and use half their health to resurrect their friend, but should the host die, that’s it, you both go back to the last breach you visited. Once we figured all this out, I had my buddy do the exploring and taunting, as I killed things freely or revived him if needed, taking much of the risk away from myself. Even better, the friend never has to go back for their corpse and gets to keep all their items and Axiom even if they die or quit out to their own game, so it’s a great way to farm.

Graphically, I really enjoyed the level design of Hellpoint, but it’s very sterile and bland, though to be expected for the derelict spaceship backdrop. Some areas have different moods and feels to it, like the massive Egyptian-like district or the one that had more organic materials oozing from the walls. The design and enemies are great, but none of the visuals aside from the backdrops will wow you. Factor in that there are some major frame drops in the areas that are simply too big, yet smooth as butter in others, it can be a jarring experience at times.

Audio seems to be about the same. The background ambiance always keeps you on your toes as you hear creaking metal from the ship or enemies lurking nearby. Many times I’ve had issues with sound cutting in and out, and while there’s a background soundtrack, it’s not memorable. Weapons can sound impactful when they swing and hit, when the game detects it properly, though that seemed to really be more of an issue with the online co-op rather than in single player.

If you’re a Souls fan, you’ll most likely enjoy Hellpoint, as long as you can handle its lack of polish and extremely janky platforming. It would have been easy to write off Hellpoint as a simple Souls knock off, and I almost did until I found a friend to play alongside. It’s unforgiving in every aspect and doesn’t hold your hand in any way, something Souls fans will appreciate. The co-op feature makes it much more accessible for casual fans of the genre like myself, but there’s enough content within to really test yourself with for those accustomed to difficult challenges.

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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